Louisiana State University guard Pete Maravich entered the Tigers’ home game against Mississippi on January 31, 1970, needing 40 points to break Oscar Robertson’s major league scoring record in college basketball. With 14 games left in the regular season and Maravich averaging 47.6 points per game, it was a matter of when, not if, Pistol Pete would surpass the Big O mark.
Before the game, LSU Coach Press Maravich joked that his son would “average three points the rest of the way” and break the record in the final game of the regular season.
“He told me he didn’t want to disappoint the fans,” Press Maravich said after Pete scored 53 points against the Rebels to pass Robertson, who scored 2,973 points in 88 games in Cincinnati from 1958 to 1960.
Maravich began his senior season ranked 14th on the all-time scoring list. He scored 55 points in a loss to Kentucky on Jan. 24 to pass Elvin Hayes for second place. Two days later, he was limited to 29 points in a win over Tennessee, leaving him 39 points behind Robertson.
Maravich equaled Robertson’s mark with eight minutes left in the second half. As the crowd at the John M. Parker Agricultural Coliseum, which was affectionately known as the “Cow Palace,” chanted “One more! One more! One more!” Maravich continued to miss his next five shots. He finally broke the record with a one-handed jumper from the right wing with 4:41 remaining.
“I wasn’t really conscious of it, but I might have been,” Maravich told reporters afterward, when asked if he pushed. “Actually, I thought I had broken the record with the tying field goal because of the way the crowd roared, but when they kept it up I knew I had to break another one. These are the greatest fans in the world.”
Men’s NCAA Tournament Bracketology
Members of the crowd, police officers, reporters, photographers and cheerleaders ran onto the court after Maravich’s shot swept through the net. LSU’s Al Sanders and Bob Lang hoisted Maravich onto their shoulders and carried him to midfield, where he was presented with the play and received congratulations from his teammates as the fans who remained in the stands gave him a standing ovation.
“Look, we still have to finish the game,” Maravich shouted over the crowd’s cheers “Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete!” according to the Associated Press.
“Pete, what was the shot that did it?” a reporter asked Maravich during the ensuing standoff, which lasted more than five minutes.
“The last shot did it,” Maravich said matter-of-factly. “It went through, didn’t it?”
With more than 1,000 students unable to get into the game watching on closed-circuit television in the student union, LSU cruised to a 109-86 victory after the field was cleared and play resumed.
“I really don’t think I can put it into words,” Maravich said afterward. “Right now I’m a little shaky. It is the greatest honor to come to me, to break the record of someone of Oscar Robertson’s stature. I think he’s probably the best basketball player ever, and I think I’m lucky to break that.”
“I never dreamed it would happen,” Press Maravich said. “I never thought he would break the record tonight. The pressure on Pete this week has been immense. I didn’t understand how he could keep himself from falling in with all this build up. He has received calls from all over the country this week. People from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, some of the Midwestern states, everywhere, have been calling all week wanting to know about the record. I have never seen more pressure on any athlete in my entire career.”
Among those not surprised by Maravich’s performance was legendary St. John’s Coach Lou Carnesecca.
“You talk about Jerry West or Oscar Robertson or some of the greats who scored and passed so well. Maravich is better, Carnesecca told the New York Times two weeks earlier. “He’s a show. Pistol Pete put in the best limited-overs performance I’ve ever seen when we played him.”
Maravich scored 40 of his 53 points in the second half of LSU’s 80-70 win over St. John’s at the Rainbow Classic in late December.
“The more men we put on him, the better he got,” Carnesecca recalled. “He’s got a whole bag of tricks. He passes under the legs at full speed, bounces the ball in from 25 feet out and even passes by flicking the ball with his wrist. Have you ever seen it?”
Maravich scored 53 points on 21-for-46 shooting against Mississippi, and also had 12 assists.
“I’ve been playing and working at this game every day of my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve had the best father and coach anyone could ask for to help me,” Maravich said after breaking the record. “I’m just glad it’s all been worth it.”
Maravich finished his college career with 3,667 points over 83 games, a remarkable 44.2 point average that will never be touched. He accomplished the feat before rookies were eligible and without the benefit of the three-point line, which the NCAA did not universally adopt until 1986. (The lack of a three-point line on the court as a point of reference may help explain why various newspaper accounts describe the distance of Maravich’s record-breaking shot as all from 15 to 23 feet.)
Shortly after his son passed Robertson, Press Maravich was asked if he thought the new mark would one day be eclipsed.
“Yes, I do,” he replied. “In the first place, records are made to be broken. I think one day—I don’t know how soon—some of these young kids will come and score points. But Pete’s name will be in the record books for the next 30 to 40 years. I will not be near to see it, but someone will destroy it.”
Terry Holland coached basketball his way. It changed sports in Virginia.
Press Maravich died at age 71 in 1987. Pete, who averaged 24.2 points per game over 10 NBA seasons, died less than a year later after collapsing during a pickup game. An autopsy revealed that Maravich, 40, had a rare and undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
Until this season, Portland State’s Freeman Williams, who scored 3,249 points in 106 games from 1975 to 1978, was the closest challenger to Maravich’s Division I record. Robertson, who scored 2,973 points in 88 games in Cincinnati, is now ranked 12th on the all-time list.
Davis, the nation’s leading scorer, was limited to 7-for-26 shooting against Youngstown State and missed a three-pointer in the final seconds that would have matched Maravich’s mark. Unless Detroit Mercy receives an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational or the tournament formerly known as the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, Thursday marked the 143rd and final game of Davis’ collegiate career.